Tuesday, November 14, 2006

In honor of Coach Belichick's amazing contributions to this blog in the last 24 hours, I have decided to spell his name correctly from here on. It was announced that the team will convert Gillette Stadium from natural grass to field turf before the next home game. And then a couple of hours ago, I got a call informing me that the team went out and pulled out the free agent coup of the millennium. Who would have thought that Vinny Testaverde would still be available at this late date? Well, he was and the Pats are going to have him as an insurance policy.

First, the field. Why convert the field at this point in the season? Yeah, the grass was a mess and the mud a bit of a problem, but it seemed like a problem that would impact both teams equally. More importantly, is this legal? I've heard of fields being resodded (as the Gillette Stadium turf was resodded earlier this season), but never a complete conversion like this. Where is the precedent?

One could argue that it serves the team right for sharing a stadium with a soccer team. Not to mention using the facility ot host the Rolling Stones and Kenny Chesney. A more cynical person than I might suspect that this a bush league ploy to psyche out the Bears. Or a ploy to boost the home team's sagging morale after their first losing streak since 2002. Of course, I would not believe that for a minute. It's not like Belichick resorts to silly little mind games like fooling around with the team's injury report, after all. Oh wait...

And as for the man, the myth, the legend Vinny Testaverde, surely another person in the wide world must be better qualified to serve as the emergency quarterback for the New England Patriots. Let us not forget that the Jets dragged Testaverde from his quiet retirement last season after Chad Pennington and Jay Fiedler were knocked out for the season.

In the course of his season with the Jets, Testaverde started four games. He threw one touchdown, which made him the first player in NFL history to throw a TD in 19 consecutive years. Set that impressive accomplishment against six interceptions, and the accomplishment is suddenly less impressive. Testaverde was eventually replaced by Brooks Bollinger. Bollinger is now backing up Brad Johnson in Minnesota, in case you care.

If you'd read the ESPN article above, you'll know that the team is coming off of consecutive losses for the first time since 2002. You'll also know that Tom Brady hasn't been his best against Indianapolis and the Jets. A lot of that is not Tom's fault. His teammates, in particular Kevin Faulk, have not been much help. But the team is now faced with a situation. If Brady is hurt, or ineffective, the only quarterback left on the roster is Matt Castle.

Castle has very little game experience since he left high school. At USC he backed up Carson Palmer and Matt Leinart. Obviously those were two great college quarterbacks who have succeeded at the NFL level (or at the very least, in Leinart's case, shown great promise). If Castle is not a capable backup, someone must be blamed. I guess Patriots fans might as well blame me.

I have never worked for the team in any capacity. I have certainly never made any personnel decisions for them, but Bill Belichick can't be wrong. Not in this case, not for this reason. Not in any case, for any reason. He is a genius According to the media (who know all things), he is the embodiment of all the qualities that made Vince Lombardi and George Halas coaching legends and then some.

The NFL is very much a what have you done for me lately league. For everybody except Bill Belichick. Yes, he won three Super Bowls, and proud we are of all of them (apologies to Maude Lebowski). But since 2004, things have changed. Belichick and Paoli built the Patriot empire, and apparently they've earned the right to preside over its decline and fall. Make no mistake about it, that's what we're seeing. The Patriots simply aren't good enough to compete with the Broncos and the Colts.

Yes, the played the Colts somewhat close 10 days ago. But they relied on two missed field goals from the greatest clutch kicker in the history of professional football to keep it within one touchdown as the game came to an end. How often will something like that happen again? The old Patriots won those games when fortune smiled on them. The older Patriots just aren't good enough to beat a better team, even when luck is on their side.

Letting Vinatieri go, chasing Deion Branch out of town and pissing off Richard Seymour all fall under the prerogatives of the genius. Maybe they will pay dividends in the long run, but I doubt it. In the meantime, enjoy facing the Bears on the new field turf with old Vinny Testaverde waiting to throw into coverage should something happen to Tom Brady. But no one in the media with the minerals to ask Belichick why his team found itself in a position with no experienced backup at the most important position in sports.

No one has dared ask what happens if Brady is hurt? It was good scouting and good fortune that Tom Brady was there when Bledsoe went down (yes, the Pats were smart enough to recognize what they had, but a lot of teams had a few shots at him before that, and Lloyd Carr should have played him more at Michigan). What are the odds that Matt Castle is another Tom Brady? Not very good, I am afraid. What could last season's Monsters of the Midway have been with a better backup than the legend in Skip Bayless' mind, Kyle Orton? But why should Belichick have planned for that eventuality?

I've watched these Bears play a few times this season. They looked bad against Arizona and Miami, but they have a killer instinct that comes out against good teams. They murdered the Seahawks (without knocking a certain bald QB out of the game, like Minnesota did) and the Giants. If they smell blood, no new turf or ancient backup will stop them. I think they will devastate the Patriots. This is a very important game for the Pats, if they should pull of the upset the old days might return for a little while. If they get blown out, it's Crowded House time in Foxboro. They might make the playoffs (the Jets just aren't ready for prime time), but they won't win. And the dynasty is gone.

The New England Revolution lost the MLS championship game, and I am heartbroken. Not because I like the Revolution, or the MLS in general, but because I had hoped that league was a fad stemming from the nation hosting the World Cup in 1994. I was wrong. It's here to stay, but I (and the silent soccer hating majority) can hope.

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